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Beth Reads (shh..): Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

Twilight by Stephenie MeyerLet’s get this out of the way. I’m 31. Not 14, not 16, not reading Teen Tiger Heartthrob magazine and swooning about anyone named Johnny, not attending any first dances. Nope. 31.

So you can understand my immediate dismissal of Stephenie Meyer‘s books, despite their steady climb (more like a rocket, really) to the top of Bestseller lists, despite the instant movie, despite the meyer-mania that consumed fans everywhere, desperate for more of their butterscotch-eyed vampire hero, Edward Cullen, and the ordinary highschooler to whom he has taken a serious shine: Bella Swan.

In my work here at AbeBooks I spend a lot of time paying attention to books. What’s selling, who’s reading what, what’s making a splash, what’s going to be the next big thing, and the Twilight series’ success and associated near-hysteria was eerily reminiscent of the Harry Potter phenomenon.

And just like with Harry Potter, I refused to read “children’s” books, or a book I thought would be beneath my reading level, not enjoyable to me, not challenging – a waste of time. And just like with Harry Potter, more and more of my friends and colleagues guiltily came out of the closet as fans. I remember a friend – I had thought a good, and trusted friend – with her eyes downcast and her lower lip trembling, whispering “I just wish Quidditch was real,” to me. What the hell was Quidditch?!? I grudgingly set out to decide for myself whether any of the fuss was worth it.

It was. O, Hogsmeade, Hedwig, Honeydukes, Hippogriffs, Hagrid, Hermione, Hogwarts! HARRY! I was immediately impressed, and hooked.

So when three separate, adult (one even older than I!) friends admitted their love of the Twilight series (I had one friend drive hours out of her way and have her car end up in a ditch, just to visit Forks, WA for her very own self), and I kept seeing those names at the top of every list, I gave in, and figured maybe it would be just like Harry Potter, and despite my snobbery and misgivings, I would love the books.

Not so. (WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD! If you’ve not read Twilight, and care about it, stop reading).

I don’t loathe them as much as I expected, to be fair. I don’t even dislike them. But I will say, the writing is very young, both in tone, and in the characterization. It is more breathy romance than I personally can stomach – a lot of “he emitted a throaty chuckle” and “my head swam as his ice-cold lips pressed against mine” and “the beating of his heart made me feel more safe yet in more danger” and the like. I’m amazed I was able to read clearly with all the eye-rolling I was doing.

That said, I can see the appeal. As a love interest, Edward Cullen has a lot of attractive qualities. He’s breathtakingly gorgeous, for one thing (natch), he’s fast and strong and good at everything he tries. He’s moody and broody and eyebrow-knitty and downturned-sexy-lips-y. His eyes range in colour from the palest gold to almost black (see above note re: moody and broody). He loves Bella, who is clumsy, and fairly ordinary, and insecure and a regular highschooler. And he loves her with the kind of passion, romance and relentless devotion that women (okay, fine, I) crave, deep down in our most embarrassing places.

One thing that bugs me is that one of the universally (to my knowledge) accepted traits of a vampire is the inability to go out during daylight, lest they become incinerated. Stephenie Meyer, who I suppose found that inconvenient to Bella and Edward’s romantic development, waved it away with her omniscient writer-wand, and explains it by having Edward say “oh, right, yeah, that’s a myth,” and then emit a throaty chuckle. Far too convenient. In her book, vampires aren’t incinerated by the sun, but they DO have to be careful, because bright sun makes them glitter and sparkle (yes, seriously), and a vampire can’t be too careful to not look pretty. Otherwise people might go around trying to braid their hair and dress them up, instead of, you know, fleeing in terror and being drained of all their blood.

Another irritation is that when we are first introduced to Bella, she is painted as bright, stubborn, determined, capable, and above all, fiercely independent, but by the end of the first book, she’s begging Edward to suck her blood so she can be immortal with him forever and ever, then sulks when he refuses. Not becoming to the heroine, really.

All in all, there’s some good sexual and romantic tension, some decent narration and description of the gorgeous Pacific Northwest towns of Forks and Port Angeles, and enough interesting plot twists and turns to keep reading. It is for me, what I call an airplane read: If I read it on a long flight, I would enjoy it and be interested to turn the page, but wouldn’t mind leaving it on the plane for the next person.

My friend did lend me all four, though… I may as well read them just to find out what happens.

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